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Birkirkara hold their nerves to book return to European football

Birkirkara's Andrei Ciolacu (right) tries to force his way through against Pieta Hotspurs. Photo; Matthew Mirabelli


Yankam 15

Iorio 45; Alves 75


Bangura 63; Iorio 90og


A. Sylla-6, O. Iorio-6.5, E. Pepe-6 (79 N. Micallef), Y. Yankam-7.5, P. Mbong-7 (82 M. Fedele), K. Zammit-6, C. Attard-6, E. Cabrera-7 (81 K. Tulimieri), S. Zibo-6, D. Ribeiro-7 (78 M. Gambin), A. Ciolacu-5 (74 A. Alves).


R. Cini-5, S. Okoh-6, C. Bangura-5, A. Temitope-6, D. Zerafa-6.5 (84 L. Gatt), J. Ghio-5.5 (65 T. Yamaguchi), T. Agius-6 (66 A. Schembri Wismayer), A. Hovhannisyan-6.5, K. Leonardi-6 (65 K. Briffa), I. Farrugia-6 (84 G. Xuereb), Z. Leonardi-6.

Referee S. Petrovic.

Yellow cards Agius, Z. Leonardi.

BOV Player of the match Yannick Yankam (Birkirkara).

Birkirkara will be back in the UEFA club competitions this summer after the Stripes saw off a battling Pieta Hotspurs side by the odd goal in five to secure a thrilling victory a the National Stadium.

To be fair, Birkirkara seemed to hold too much firepower for the struggling Hotspurs and built a comfortable two-goal advantage by the end of the first half.

However, sloppy defending after the break almost cost them dearly as gave Pieta a way back into the match and it had to be a well-taken goal by Alex Alves that assured the Stripes a crucial victory that ensured the team will finish in the runner-up spot with a game to spare.

On the other hand, the Hotspurs will be disappointed to suffer yet another defeat and will now hope their relegation rivals Sta Lucia and Żebbuġ Rangers fail to pick up points this weekend to head into their final-day fixture against Sirens with hope they can pull level with their rivals in the play-out race.

Birkirkara took the ground running and they came close to taking the lead after two minutes of play when Dennis Ribeiro sent a dipping cross towards Enzo Cabrera who saw his header finish just wide.

However, it was the Hotspurs who came closest to break the stalemates with a typical transitional play as Armen Hovhannisyan broke free on the left and his cross was deflected into the path of Kian Leonardi who quickly teed up Abraham Temitope who was unlucky to see his shot coming off the post with goalkeeper Amara Sylla beaten.

Having survived this scare, Birkirkara took the lead, Cabrera backheeled the ball into the path of Osvaldo Iorio whose cross-shot was palmed by Cini into the path of Yannnick Yankam who headed the ball into the net.

Despite this early setback, the Hotspurs still tried to push their way forward with Hovhannisyan at the heart of their moves but their final pass left much to be desired.

Just past the half hour, Sylla was almost punished as the Birkirkara goalkeeper was caught out of his position and he somehow managed to tip over Samuel Okoh’s dipping free-kick over the bar.

Five minutes from the break, Ribeiro broke inside the area but his attempted cross towards Cabrera was blocked by Leonardi.

Minutes later, Cini came to Pieta’s rescue when he produced a fine diving save to push away Enrico Pepe’s shot from a volley.

A minute from the break, Birkirkara were denied a second goal by the woodwork as Paul Mbong sped inside the area and hit a low drive that beat Cini but came off the upright.

The Stripes pressure finally got the desired dividends as Ribeiro sent a low cross into the path of Cabrera who saw his flick coming off the upright but from the rebound, Iorio had little difficulty tapping the ball into the net.

Ten minutes into the second half, Birkirkara had a good chance to add a third goal when Yankam forced his way inside the area but was denied by the onrushing Cini.

Paul Mbong protested for a penalty on 59 minutes when he was challenged by Samuel Okoh inside the area but referee Slobodan Petrovic waved play on.

The Hotspurs kept fighting and they managed to claw themselves back into the match on 63 minutes.

Hovhannisyan’s shot was deflected by Sylla onto the upright, the ball fell to Daniel Zerafa who could only hit the rebound onto the upright. The ball fell to Zean Leonardi whose shot was bundled home by Bangura.

But any hopes, Pieta had to restore equilibrium were all but extinguished on 73 minutes when substitute Alex Alves sped inside the area and beat Cini with a low drive.

To their credit, the Hotspurs kept pushing forward and pulled a second goal back in the second minute of stoppage time when from a Temitope corner, Yamaguchi saw his shot deflected by Iorio into his own net.

But that was too little too late as Birkirkara held on to their lead to secure three precious points that put them back in European football.

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